Siachin opens up tourism

2. Does the Karakoram really belong to the Himalayas?

Descriptions of the region:

Content:

1. The mountain ranges of the Karakoram
2. Does the Karakoram really belong to the Himalayas?
3. The typical features of the landscape
4. Limited infrastructure for tourism and access restrictions
5. Travel time only in summer
6. Irritations about names and altitude information

1. The mountain ranges of the Karakoram

The Karakoram is the mountainous part of the Himalayas at the northwestern end of the Himalayas between 34 and 37 degrees north latitude and 74 and 78 degrees east longitude. The Karakoram is limited

- to the west / southwest by the Gilgit and Indus rivers
- in the south / southeast of the Indus and its tributary Shyok
- to the east / northeast by the Shyok and Shaksgam rivers
- in the north of the Pakistani state border with China and Afghanistan

At the Karakoram Conference in 1937, held by the Survey of India, the Royal Geographic Society, the Alpine Club and the Himalayan Club, there was unanimous agreement that the Karakoram should be regarded as part of the Himalayas. For the individual mountain parts of the Karakoram, designations were established that have since been considered binding for the map series. The main ridge running in the middle was called Great Karakoram (Great Karakoram) denotes the following seven subsections:

- Saser Muztagh: from the arch of Shyok in the southeast to the Saser pass with the main summit Saser
Kangri
- Rimo-Muztagh: from the Saser Pass to the Italian Pass with the main peaks Mamostong Kangri and
Rimo
- Siachen-Muztagh: the area northeast of the Siachen Glacier from the Italian Pass to the
Sia Kangri
with the main peaks Teram Kangri and Singhi Kangri
- Baltoro-Muztagh: from Sia Kangri to the Western Muztagh Pass with the main peaks
Gasherbrum I (Hidden Peak), Gasherbrum II, Broad Peak, K2 and Muztagh Tower
- Panmah-Muztagh: from the Western Muztagh Pass to Snow Lake with the main peaks Chiring,
Skamri, Baintha Brakk (Ogre) and Lukpe Lawo Brakk
- Hispar-Muztagh: from Snow Lake to the Hunza Gorge with the main peaks Kanjut Sar, Kunyang
Chhish, Disteghil Sar, and Trivor
- Batura-Muztagh: from the Hunza Gorge to Chillinj-An in the northwest with the main peaks
Shispare, Batura and Kampire Dior

The areas south and north of the Great Karakoram were called Lesser Karakoram (Little Karakoram). The term "Muztagh" (ice mountains) is not used for the mountain parts concerned; one speaks only of groups (groups) or mountains (mountains) or ranges (chains). North of the Great Karakoram they are

- Ghujerab Mountains with the Karun Kho (6977 m) as the highest peak and the
- Lupghar group north of the Batura Muztagh, the highest peak of which is barely the 6000m mark
surpass.

The Aghil Mountains northeast of Shaksgam are no longer part of the Karakoram. Most pronounced in the Lesser Karakoram is the southern chain, which is almost as long as the Great Karakoram and runs parallel to it. The most important sub-areas are in this chain

- Saltoro Range with the main peaks K12 and Saltoro Kangri
- Masherbrum range with the main peaks Masherbrum and Chogolisa
- Haramosh range with the main peaks Haramosh I and Paraber
- North of Haramosh Range with the main summit Spantik
- Rakaposhi Range with the main peaks Rakaposhi, Diran and Malubiting

If one takes the main mountain ranges of the Karakoram (Great Karakoram and Lesser Karakoram), which run parallel from east-southeast to west-northwest, as a basis for orientation, it is much easier to sort these mountains, which at first glance seem so confusing, in the mind's eye.

Of the large glaciers (more than 50 km in length), the Hispar, Biafo-, Baltoro and Siachen glaciers lie between the Great Karakoram and the southern Lesser Karakoram, the Batura and Rimo glaciers to the north of it. Small side valleys run from the great ridges to both sides, in which the numerous smaller glaciers of the Karakoram are located, but some of them are still of considerable length. In the center of the Karakoram, the Great Karakoram and the southern chain of the Lesser Karakoram swivel for a short distance in the east-west direction, and then continue in a "diagonal" direction. The Baltoro Glacier located here inevitably follows this "swing", but only over 2/3 of its length between Payu and Concordia.

The question has already been answered by the above-mentioned Karakoram Conference of 1937: Yes, the Karakoram is part of the Himalayas.

Of course, you can call into question any agreement you have once made. In this case it would be completely wrong, because in 1937 really competent groups made the decision, and they had good reasons for their decision, namely the conclusions from the history of the formation of the mountains.

The Himalayas (including the Karakoram) are one of the youngest mountains on earth. It was created by the collision of the continental plates of the Asian continent in the north and the Indian subcontinent in the south. The drift of the continental plates is caused by the magma currents in the earth's interior. If two continental plates collide, enormous forces act. The rock masses of the slabs must give way in the abutting edge areas. Folding upwards creates mountains, while diversion downwards into the deeper magma layers melts rock and penetrates upwards again.

So the entire mountain range has a common history of origin. The part that we call the Karakoram is separated from the rest of the Himalayas in the south by the Indus and its tributary Shyok. If the deep gullet created by these rivers and running from east-south-east to west-north-west did not exist, no one would doubt that the mountains south and north belong to the same main ridge. But even so there should be no doubt, because the Indus / Shyok does not separate two mountains with different origins, but merely represents an erosion valley that the much older river has dug into the rock layers that are rising to the left and right of the bank . The well-known expedition leader and mountaineer G.O. Dyhrenfurth put it in his book "Baltoro" as follows: "The separation of the Himalayas and Karakoram by the Shyok / Indus Valley is ultimately not much different than, for example, the separation of the Central Alps and the Northern Limestone Alps by the Inn Valley. Or - another example: Geologically and morphologically, the difference between the Karakoram Himalayas and the main mass of the actual Himalaya is definitely less than the contrast between the Central Alps and the Dolomites, which merge into the mountains of the Balkan Peninsula without a sharp boundary. So - the Karakoram belongs to the Himalaya- System."

Incidentally, the course of the Indus shows us that the Himalayas are not a watershed. The Indus rises in the southeast in Tibet and thus north (!) Of the Himalayas near the holy mountain Kailash, where the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) running to the east also rises. However, these two rivers have their mouths in the south on the Indian Ocean, i.e. they break through the main ridge of the Himalayas, albeit by considerable detours. This can only be explained by the fact that the rivers already existed before the greatest uplift in recent geological history. As the rock formations rose, they gradually dug themselves deeper and deeper. A few other rivers such as the Kali Ghandaki and the Arun in Nepal have their source north of the Himalayas and flow through the mountains to the south. So they are also older than the mountains.

3. The typical features of the landscape

If you compare the topography of the Karakoram with that of the rest of the Himalayas, you will notice an extreme density of high peaks, the large extent of glaciation and the desert-like nature of the valleys.

In the Karakoram there are "only" 4 of the total of 14 eight-thousanders in the Himalayas, but 75 seven-thousanders compared to, for example, "only" 54 in Nepal. The situation is similar with the six-thousanders. Due to this high density of high peaks between deeply cut valleys, the mountains appear rugged and inhospitable. This impression is reinforced by the high level of glaciation and the desert-like valleys. Compared to the mountains of the Indian or Nepalese Himalayas, the Karakoram is wilder and more bizarre and is therefore described by most visitors as more spectacular and impressive. On the other hand, trekking tours or summit ascents place significantly greater demands on the participants on average than in the other regions of the Himalayas, which naturally limits the influx of trekkers and mountaineers.

The high degree of glaciation is due to the more northerly location - compared to Nepal - with lower average temperatures. While the mountains in Nepal are around the 28th parallel, the Karakoram stretches between 34 and 37 degrees north. This colder climatic zone also means that the tongues of the large glaciers reach down to much lower altitudes, e.g. on the Baltoro Glacier at 3600 m, on the Biafo Glacier at 3100 m and on the Batura Glacier even at 2600 m.

Most of the high peaks of the Karakoram lie in a secluded world of rock, snow and ice with desert-like valleys - brown and largely without vegetation. You won't find any forests in the Karakoram, even in the lowest areas. Winters are extremely cold and long. In contrast to the Nepalese Himalayas, where the monsoons cause large amounts of precipitation, there is comparatively little precipitation in the Karakoram; the influence of the monsoons can only be felt to a limited extent here. It is very hot in the summer months in the low-lying valleys of the Indus, Gilgit and Hunza, which due to their altitude would be well suited for settlement. Here it is possible that, despite the heavy cloud cover, no rain arrives on the valley floor because it has evaporated in the heat beforehand. The low amount of precipitation in the valleys and the harsh winter climate give the vegetation almost no chance. All this is the reason that almost no people have settled, because if even most of the valleys are not suitable for growing grain or as grazing land for cattle, then the people have no livelihood. Wherever there are villages and green fields or even orchards, man has laboriously wrested a piece of living space from nature over centuries by building irrigation canals from the glacier streams to the lower-lying places. The most important example of such a man-made cultural landscape is the Hunza Valley. Tourism, which is essentially limited to the months of June to September, has recently opened up a certain opportunity for people to improve their livelihoods.

4. Limited infrastructure for tourism and restricted access

Almost all settlements in the Karakoram are located in the lower elevations of the Indus, Gilgit and Hunza valleys, i.e. on the edges of the Karakoram. These places (e.g. Gilgit, Karimabad, Gulmit, Pasu, Nagar, Skardu) are all on the Karakoram Highway, i.e. they can usually be reached by bus or car. "As a rule" means: unless a landslide has interrupted the road somewhere. The word "highway" should not be used to develop excessive expectations of driving comfort. Driving is a shaking adventure with surprises. This "highway" is just a road in a wild mountain landscape that is constantly threatened by rockslides, landslides or rivers overflowing their banks. The repair crews never become unemployed. Even the local drivers, who don't shy away from risk, do their part with their driving style to make the journey an adventure. The places Gilgit and Skardu can also be reached from Islamabad by plane, provided that the weather permits a flight.

In the places on the Karakoram Highway there are more and more acceptable overnight accommodations. But that's about it, i.e. if you want to go to the mountains of the Karakoram, you have to have your own quarters and your own kitchen on your back. Only the towns of Shimshal in the north and Askole near the Baltoro Glacier are located in the middle of the mountains, both accessible via adventurous slopes by jeep. There is, however, no infrastructure worth mentioning for trekkers and mountaineers. Trekking from lodge to lodge, as is possible in Nepal, is not possible in the Karakoram. This means that everyone - even the lone wanderer - needs porters from the local community to reach any significant destination in the wild.

The Karakoram is practically inaccessible from the Indian national territory - not because of the difficult topography, but because the southern and southeastern part of the Karakoram is a war zone in the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The Indian military has sealed off the entrances for strangers. The "front" runs between Siachen Glacier and Baltoro Glacier and somewhere between Kargil and Skardu. Occasionally, but rarely, expeditions are permitted to go to the southeasternmost peaks such as Mamostong Kangri and Saser Kangri. On the Pakistani side, it would be similar with the Baltoro, if a ban did not result in such high losses of climbing or trekking fees. In addition, the employment of locals as carriers is a not inconsiderable economic factor for the country. So, strangely enough, you can march with the Pakistani military to Concordia Square on the Baltoro Glacier and from there on to the Abruzzi Glacier in the direction of the Conway Saddle. Only where you could go southeast to the Sia-Kangri is the end for the mountaineer.

5. Travel time only in summer

While in almost all parts of the Himalayas the monsoon season from the beginning of June to the beginning of October largely prevents travelers from venturing into the mountains, in the Karakoram this is exactly the time for trekking tours or mountain climbing. The months of October to the beginning of May are real winter months in the Karakoram, in which significant activities at altitudes above 3000 to 4000 m are practically impossible, in contrast to parts of the Himalayas further south, where the months of October and November as well as February to May are recommended are limited even December and January. As already mentioned, the effects of the summer monsoon in the Karakoram are at most noticeable. The prevailing weather conditions are local with alternating periods of good and bad weather.

6.Confusion about names and altitude information

The word "Karakoram" means "black rubble". "Karakoram" is the name of a pass on the eastern edge of the mountains on the border with China on the caravan route between Leh in Ladakh and Sinkiang. "Black rubble" definitely applies to this zone. But why this name of a pass, which actually no longer belongs to the mountain part, was transferred to the gleaming white high mountains, remains one of the great secrets of the naming in the Himalayas. A more inappropriate name could not have been chosen. So this part of the Himalayas is irrevocably called Karakoram (or Karakoram in English-speaking countries).

The Karakorum Pass (5575 m) in the east, after which the mountain range was named.
Photo: Himalayancamping.com

Some of the naming in the Himalayas seems to have been more of a coincidence or arbitrariness as a result of well-founded research or justified name assignment by the local population. That e.g.the river that rises from the Baltoro Glacier, called Biaho Lungma and a few kilometers further down, is called Braldu, is one of those curiosities. Perhaps "Biaho" is just a confusion with "Biafo", the glacier valley that flows into the east of Askole; we can no longer determine it today. But now there is also the fact that there is another "Braldu" and a Braldu glacier north of the Baltoro area. This leads to the assumption that the name "Braldu" was mistakenly assigned to the wrong places. At some point it happened and it was written on cards and it was irreversible. In the case of the example, one is now forced to speak of "Süd-Braldu" and "Nord-Braldu". The "Süd-Braldu" originates from the Baltoro Glacier, even if it is initially called Biaho Lungma. Above the first settlement of Askole it takes up the mighty tributaries Dumord (or Dumordo) and Biafo and from there is called Braldu or - correctly - South Braldu. And finally - so that the confusion is complete - the river bears the name "Shigar" from the confluence of the Basha coming from the north. Three names for the same river, but nowhere is it called "Baltoro"! So don't be surprised if you come across strange names while studying the geography of the Karakoram! In addition, the spellings of many names in the cards are different. Obviously, it depended on who, from which local, had recorded a certain name in which pronunciation and transferred it to a card. It was probably also of influence whether this "stranger" came from the English, French, Italian or German-speaking countries.

With regard to the height information of the mountains, caution is also advisable in some parts. It would go beyond the scope of this website to show the problems that an exact altitude determination brings with it in remote high mountains. Therefore, it should only be said here that an exact determination of the height is extremely time-consuming despite the most modern technology. Nobody can or wants to afford this effort on hundreds or thousands of peaks. For many peaks there are only estimated heights, which can usually be recognized by rounded height numbers such as 6100 or 6250. But even where supposedly safe numbers such as 8611 or 8068 etc. are to be found, one should not assume that these details cannot deviate from reality by a few meters. Here, too, further safeguarding would mean extremely high effort, without, however, gaining absolute security. Just think of the problem of determining the height 0.00 below the peaks, because the earth is not an exact sphere, but - to put it exaggeratedly - a potato. Let's just take the heights as we find them in the maps of serious authors. Unfortunately, not every card falls into this category.